Page 61

G

rowing up in Baltimore, Rodney Foxworth came face-to-face with the social and economic issues that dominate the news today. “The city represents much of the decline in the American dream: postindustrialization, the war on drugs, an emphasis on the prison system/ policing, the lack of opportunity in jobs, and, of course, the erosion of public education,” he says. As a college student, Foxworth worked as a freelance journalist, covering community issues in Baltimore that ranged from mass incarceration and unemployment to failing public schools, but he yearned to be part of the story. “I wanted to be able to effect some kind of change,” he recalls. “ I felt the need to be a part of the solution.” After a stint at Baltimore’s Abell Foundation and a local nonprofit focused on workforce development, Foxworth joined the Knight Foundation’s Black Male Engagement initative, now called BMe, which operates in Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore, Miami, Pittsburgh, and Akron. He dovetailed his experience supporting Black men in their community engagement initiatives with his own consulting firm, Invested Impact, where he leveraged philanthropic and private-sector dollars to lift up entrepreneurs of color. In 2016, his efforts attracted the attention of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE). The collective of communities, entrepreneurs, and funders seeks to “defy business as usual” and “create local economies that work for all.” Foxworth linked up with BALLE as a 2016 member of its lauded Economy Fellowship. He now serves

as executive director of the Oakland, California-based group. We sat down with Foxworth to learn more about his roots in Baltimore, his career in social impact, and how his new role at BALLE ties it all together. What led you to your role at BALLE, and how do you see yourself in the alliance’s mission to create local economies that work for everyone? Rodney Foxworth: My story starts in Baltimore, where I grew up in a working-class African-American household and was the first in my family to go to college. Every day, I saw my parents get up, go to work, and work really hard. In America, you often hear, “If you work hard and you do the right things, you will succeed.” But I saw that this dream wasn’t true for so many people, particularly minorities. Most people are hard-working folks, but the system doesn’t offer opportunities for their hard work to turn into material success or comfort and security. Seeing the “dream deferred” that Langston Hughes wrote about [in his poem “Harlem”] shaped my personal and professional orientation, and it got me thinking about what an American community can be. What is the difference you are trying to make in the world, both in your role at BALLE and in life? RF: I want to eliminate racism, sexism, and classicism. I want everyone to be able to live in a world in which you’re not defined by class, race, or gender. It permeates our daily activities in ways that are so unnoticeable. My big goal is to do

my part in helping to dismantle and deconstruct these reductive power structures. How do you see the role of business and investment in breaking down barriers around race, class, and gender? RF: I see business as both a driver of and adversely impacted by things like racism, sexism, and classicism. In the US, for example, we have these tremendous racial and gender wealth gaps. There are so many different disparities related to ownership of minority businesses and the kind of wealth that those minority business owners accrue. When we look at the investment side of things, fund managers of color face a disproportionate number of barriers to even enter the industry. From Jim Crow and before that, opportunities were inaccessible to certain minority groups — and business had a negative role in those days. Capital, wealth, and business have played a tremendous role in creating injustice. What do you feel needs to happen in order to move business from an enabler of injustice to an agent for positive change? RF: Coming from a place like Baltimore, you live the data. You don’t have to look at the statistics, because you know. But when you do look at some of that data, it’s clear that it will take quite a combination of concessionary capital, philanthropy, and other methods to be able to unravel the wealth disparity we have in the US. I often question: why does a foundation, for example, need to be a perpetual institution? How

CONSCIOUS COMPANY MAGAZINE

|

Q2 / SPRING 2019

59

Profile for Conscious Company

Conscious Company Magazine | Spring 2019  

The Q2/Spring 2019 issue of Conscious Company is all about the racial wealth gap, diversity as a competitive differentiator, game-changing f...

Conscious Company Magazine | Spring 2019  

The Q2/Spring 2019 issue of Conscious Company is all about the racial wealth gap, diversity as a competitive differentiator, game-changing f...